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Football Outsiders: Denver Broncos defense has to be big in 2015

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Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

We had the opportunity to have a Q&A with the folks over at Football Outsiders. Scott Kacsmar took some time to answer our questions. They recently released their Football Outsiders Almanac 2015, which we're going to get a sneak peak of here in this post.

MHR: With Gary Kubiak melding his offensive philosophy with that of Peyton Manning’s, how do you think that will shake out for the Denver Broncos in 2015?

Kascmar: It's the most important part in determining how successful the 2015 Broncos can be. We detailed this pretty heavily in the chapter, but I do still have concerns. Gary Kubiak wouldn't want his legacy to be the only coach who couldn't win with Peyton Manning at quarterback. Manning's had at least one 13-win season with his previous four coaches. He's always been allowed to pretty much run the offense, but this is different. Kubiak's offense is also a lot different schematically from what Manning is used to. It can't be as simple as Manning does his usual pass stuff and Kubiak does his usual zone-blocking run stuff. They really do need to mesh the two together to avoid predictability, because individually, both styles can manage an inexperienced offensive line very well. I'm not sure that still works when meshed together though.

Guys, stop living in the past and trying to recreate that ending. Terrell Davis isn't walking through that door.

I'm also not a fan of the offseason talk coming out of Denver as if Kubiak and John Elway have this perfect plan of how to keep Manning healthy and run an offense that can win a Super Bowl. Guys, stop living in the past and trying to recreate that ending. Terrell Davis isn't walking through that door. Elway hurt himself in pre-game warm-ups and lifting weights in that 1998 season, so let's not pretend he was a pillar of health at the end. Let's also not forget Kubiak's Denver offenses were pretty poor in the postseason after Elway retired. In 2015, your quarterback can't average 25 throws a game. Denver still has to throw the ball, but it just doesn't have to be 600 times anymore either. More balance, more efficiency.

I want to believe they'll work something out, but I also wouldn't be surprised if they're on prime-time in Week 2 in Kansas City (first road test) and we see Manning blowing off Rick Dennison in the second half and calling pass after pass in a no-huddle comeback attempt. Early success is going to be key this year, or things could get to a Dan Reeves-Elway feud level pretty fast.

MHR: The Broncos recently hired a Director of Analytics, and this person will be among the assistants that will have the ear of head coach Gary Kubiak during games. If you could provide such in-game advice to an NFL coach, what types of analytics would you use and advice would you give?

Kacsmar: That's interesting, and you definitely have to be on top of everything going on to get the decisions in quickly to Kubiak to beat the play clock. I don't know the details of this position, but I'm assuming this is a person with access to a tablet. I believe computers are still a no-no on the sideline and up in the booth, but ideally I would want to be running the play-by-play to look at things like win probability and expected points to make fourth-down decisions. Now as fans we sometimes wait a long time for the play-by-play to update, so he would need a really good system or to enter the data manually, which includes the time remaining in the game, field position, scoring margin and the down and distance. So like I said, trying to crunch the numbers and get something to Kubiak in 10 seconds could be pretty difficult. I guess you could always go old-school with a notebook of the numbers printed out in each situation, but again, you would manually have to thumb through to find the exact situation. There's a real time crunch here. If this is something more basic like knowing when to go for a two-point conversion, then that's useful too. I expect to see more two-point conversions this year and have been working on that data myself in preparation for the season.

MHR: Shane Ray has been slow to make an impact in training camp so far, which could be because of the talent ahead of him at his position. Do you see him getting much playing time as a rookie?

Kacsmar: I think he's in a situation that makes him a deluxe Dee Ford from Kansas City last year. Ford had to play behind Justin Houston and Tamba Hali, so he didn't get much playing time at all and mostly served as quality injury insurance. That's mostly where I see Shane Ray in 2015 playing behind Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Granted, Ware's up there in years and Miller's missed some time before, but I think Wade Phillips will have to get pretty creative to find ways to get all three on the field together to rush the passer. The Broncos don't really need Ray to be a major contributor this season because of the talent ahead of him, but it would be nice to see him contribute something as a rookie.

MHR: Von Miller looks poised for a career year based on what we’re seeing from him at camp. Do you think he’ll flourish under Wade Phillips' scheme?
The defense has to be big for Denver this year and Miller is the key player to it all.

Kacsmar: I expect an All-Pro season from Miller. He's already had two pretty fantastic years (2012 and 2014) in his career, so career year may be pushing it, but he's young and in his prime with a new contract to come. People can say what they want about Wade Phillips as a head coach, but the man knows how to get everything he can out of great defensive talent. How many people can say they got to coach Reggie White AND Bruce Smith? That alone is special, but Phillips has also coached J.J. Watt, Rickey Jackson, Elvin Bethea, Shawne Merriman, DeMarcus Ware (twice now) and now we can add Miller to the list. I may have more faith in Phillips maximizing Miller's talent than I do for Kubiak and Manning figuring out their offensive design. The defense has to be big for Denver this year and Miller is the key player to it all.

MHR: The Broncos defense finished among the league's best in yards, but middle of the pack in points. Do you think Wade Phillips style of aggressive defense will improve that points against number?

Kacsmar: When you're a high-scoring team like Denver, there is a tendency to allow some garbage-time points, which was certainly the case in the past few years. However, it's a little troubling that Denver only held five teams to less than 17 points in 2013-14, tied for 23rd in the league. Teams like Seattle and Carolina led the way with 16 such games, or 50% of the time. There was an annoying pattern in Jack Del Rio's tenure where the Broncos just couldn't seem to shut the door without making things interesting. Think of the 24-3 lead against Buffalo last year turning into a 24-17 final, or the Jets crawling back from 24-7 down to a touchdown away from tying before Aqib Talib had a late pick-six. The 2013 playoff wins over San Diego and New England were also way too close in the end after the lead seemed so safe early in the fourth quarter. Too often Denver would turn a 17-21 point lead into a nail-biting finish. That's something you'd like to see Phillips solve. Find a way to put the clamps down for good instead of keeping teams in it.

The great part is Denver is 16-3 when leading by one score in the fourth quarter since 2012, closing out many of those games with a big takeaway. Even the vaunted Seattle defense has blown 10 such leads in that time. More impressive for Denver is that it's hard to blame the defense for the game-winning drives allowed to the 2013 Patriots (muffed punt in overtime) and 2014 Bengals (forced three-and-out drive, but 49-yard punt return set up field goal). Those were more on the special teams and offense. Of course, that just leaves the one moment that is sadly the defining one so far for this era in Denver: the Rahim Moore play against Baltimore. That one lapse in judgment continues to stand out.

My Take

It was tough to hear Kacsmar wasn't so high on the Denver Broncos offense, but he's right. Peyton Manning is old and old players tend to miss a few games here and there to injury. John Elway missed six games in his final ride. However, Super Bowls can still be won in spite of those setbacks as Elway also showed us. The linchpin it appears is the defense. Wade Phillips and that defense must be the dominant force we all think it has the potential to be, so we won't have to depend on Manning to carry this team to 13 wins.

I'd like to thank Scott Kacsmar for taking the time to answer our questions and I've finally decided to forgive him for taking away Elway's 47 comeback wins. It's the manner in which Elway was the comeback king, not the number. And that's all I have to say about that.

What's your take Broncos Country?